White House memo calls for ban on federal race-related training

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President Donald Trump is diving into the latest eruption in the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice with a trip Tuesday to Kenosha, Wisconsin, over the objections of local leaders. (Sept. 1)

AP Domestic

Labeling it “propaganda,” President Donald Trump took aim on Friday at employee training at federal agencies on topics that include “white privilege” and “critical race theory.”

“It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date ‘training’ government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda,” states a memo released Friday by Office of Management and Budget, which was sent to the heads of federal agencies. 

They were ordered to stop funding any such lessons.

Written by the office’s director, Russell Vought, it denounces training that frames the United States as historically racist and white people as beneficiaries of racism. 

“Employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that ‘virtually all white people contribute to racism’ or where they are required to say that they ‘benefit from racism,'” the memo states, citing unspecified “press reports.”

“We can be proud of our continued efforts to welcome all individuals who seek to serve their fellow Americans as Federal employees,” it continues. “However, we cannot accept our employees receiving training that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.”

Vought directed all agencies to begin identifying contracts or spending related to training on critical race theory and white privilege, as well as training that suggests the “United States is an inherently racist or evil country” or that “any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.”

He writes such training “engenders division and resentment within the Federal workforce.” 

The memo, which is just over a page long, alludes to a critique of affirmative action policies as well, claiming such training has contradicted “the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.” 

OMB will “shortly issue more detailed guidance on implementing the President’s directive.” 

What is critical race theory?

Legal theory scholars at Harvard University define critical race theory as drawing “upon a variety of critical strategies to expose how (the) law constructs race to disadvantage persons of color.”

Imani Perry, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, told USA Today that critical race theorists “interrogate cases, legislation, economic, cultural, and social forces in order to understand how racial inequality persists, notwithstanding the promises of the Constitution and anti-discrimination law.” 

“I am unaware of any critical race theory ‘training’ for federal employees,” she said. “I’m not even sure how that would function.”

Chris Rufo, a Discovery Institute Research fellow who criticized critical race theory on Fox News on this week, suggested that he influenced Trump’s thinking, thanking the president on Twitter. 

“This executive action is the first successful counterattack against critical race theory in American history,” he said.

“I think that it’s something that (Trump) has denounced, this kind of Black Lives Matter and neo-Marxist rhetoric in places like Portland and Seattle, but it’s time to take action and destroy it within his own administration,” Rufo said on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Tuesday. 

The president retweeted on Saturday morning a clip of Rufo talking about critical race theory on Tucker Carlson’s show. 

Trump, lawmakers take sides

On Saturday, Trump called critical race theory “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue,” on Twitter. 

A few lawmakers on both sides of the aisle responded to the memo. 

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., echoed Trump’s sentiment, calling critical race theory “divisive & harmful.” 

“Let’s call this what it is: an attempt to divide our country, promote a culture of white privilege, and perpetuate systemic racism,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., on Twitter

“Donald Trump has no idea what critical race theory is, he just wants as little accountability for his white supremacy as possible,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis. 

Summer of social justice protests is backdrop for training memo

The order comes as Trump has positioned himself as firmly opposed to anti-racist demonstrations that have transpired throughout the country since May, specifically protests against police brutality often led by Black Lives Matter and its supporters.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has drawn criticism for  comments on race. This summer, he has called Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs,” for example.

He has criticized challenges to American cultural images over the past few months, specifically targeting demonstrators who have removed Confederate statues in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. 

“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrating our monuments, our beautiful monuments, tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control, we’re not conforming,” Trump said in June. 

And the president has been scrutinized for the stark divide between his comments toward people of color, or movements defending their rights versus his implicit defense of white nationalists. In 2017, for instance, Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying they included “some very fine people,” while expressing sympathy for their demonstration protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

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